Category Archives: Rant

The humble 125cc scooter may soon be an endangered species on our expensive Singapore roads.

The COE system is now hurting motorcyclists too

This letter was published in Today, 22 Mar 2014. Note that the COE increase for motorcycles was 240%, but was mistakenly edited to 140% in the printed letter.

This letter was published in Today, 22 Mar 2014. Note that the COE increase for motorcycles was 240%, but was somehow edited to 140% in the printed letter.

Most people may not know that between 2003 and 2013, the car population jumped from 405,328 vehicles to 621,345 vehicles, a staggering 53% increase, according to official Land Transport Authority data.

In the same period, the motorcycle population only increased from 134,767 vehicles to 144,307 vehicles, a 7% increase.

Private cars now form 64% of the total vehicle population, while motorcycles make up 15%.

A 125cc scooter like this Yamaha Zuma may soon be an endangered species on our expensive Singapore roads.

An affordable and efficient 125cc scooter like this Yamaha Zuma may soon be an endangered species on our expensive Singapore roads.

Despite the minimal impact of motorcycles on road congestion and pollution, in the past four months, the Certificate of Entitlement premium for two-wheelers has increased 240% to $4,289 as the LTA has applied its one-size-fits-all formula to capping vehicle population growth in Singapore.

While the LTA is doing the right thing in correcting the over-supply of COE in the past decade, it may not realize how its myopic approach in severely restricting the release of motorcycle COEs  is hurting the motorcycling population and intensifying a growing social equity problem. Continue reading

The Tuition Problem nobody wants to solve

Dear Voices Editor

I refer to the Today report “MPs call for closer look at private tuition industry” (Today 17 Sep 2013)

It was a disheartening story for parents of primary school children to read.

While the original question posed by MPs in Parliament was focused on whether teachers are leaving the Education Service for more lucrative careers in the tuition sector, the replies from Senior Minister of State Indranee Rajah was a disturbing indication that the Ministry of Education doesn’t consider the tuition industry to be a critical issue.

Like it or not, it’s time for policymakers to stop ignoring the Tuition Problem if we are to improve the education system in Singapore. Continue reading

SAF, fix your IPPT system for those above 35

I’m sending this in as a letter to the press. As far as I can tell, I have not leaked any military secrets.

The Singapore Armed Forces often touts itself as a technologically advanced army, and it is in many ways. However, there is a pressing need to improve some basic IT services that affect many operationally ready servicemen before it can boast of being a “3G army”.

NSmen who are above 35 have to take a health screening test every year at an army medical center before they can be allowed to take the annual Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT). For the past two work years since I started taking the screening test, I have encountered a baffling issue that highlights the poor integration of data within the SAF.

Since 2011, I have attended my scheduled health screenings in September. However, the official personnel records are not updated with the screening test results even after five months. I have to call the NS hotline repeatedly in order to find out if my records have been updated.

To make matters worse, the SAF recently shortened the IPPT window to nine months each year instead of twelve months.

With over half of the window period made invalid by the lack of an updated health record, the NSman is then put under further pressure to clear his IPPT test in a compressed time frame.

This issue is not isolated, as I have checked with fellow NSmen and they have encountered the same scenario. With no systematic notification of the health screening test result, some NSmen actually miss their IPPT window and then have to go through the hassle of explaining to their respective unit why they should not be penalized.

It is clear that till today, there is no proper integration between the IPPT registration system and the health screening database. We will receive regular SMS alerts from MINDEF telling us to clear our IPPT even when the health screening results aren’t updated.

And after so many years, the NS portal website remains a messy “rojak” of critical services and marketing fluff which makes it difficult to navigate.

With the massive amount of the national budget that is poured into defence spending, the SAF needs to relook some fundamentals of how IT is implemented to drive better efficiency.

We NSmen sacrifice our work and family time to do our national duty and such broken IT services only lead to unnecessary frustration and inconvenience.

Ian Tan Yong Hoe

Think out of the money box

Since my last blog post, and later newspaper letter, on restructuring the COE system based on needs was published, I’ve observed several replies that follow the same lines of thought.

  • A certificate of entitlement (COE) must be tied to capitalistic market forces, because there is no other fair way of distribution.
  • The COE must cost a particular sum of money (eg. the rich should pay more for their high-end cars)
  • A COE system based on needs can’t possibly work, due to the subjective nature of “needs” and the existence of a black market.
  • Any distribution of COE based on needs must be communist or socialist, so it can’t be good.

It’s amusing and I must admit, somewhat tiring, to see how Singaporeans think when they see a new proposal that isn’t based on money principles. This permeates not just through the citizenry, but also the government. Here are some of the responses to my letter with alternative proposals

I suggest benchmarking road tax and rebate values against the latest COE prices (pegged to the OMV) to ensure that actual cost of car ownership is borne by all road users. In times of high COE prices, owners would receive incentives to de-register their vehicles, increasing the supply of COEs. This will also allow vehicle growth rate to slow down, while maintaining price stability. Market-based solutions remain the most appropriate approach to the problem

- Tan Si An, “Look to market-based solutions to improve current COE system”, 13 Feb 2013, Today Voices.

To correct this, we must adjust our system through cooling measures, like in property, that would be easy to administer, such as a maximum loan quantum of 40 to 50 per cent, to help regulate overall demand and reduce risks for many who might overcommit on debts. A re-categorisation of COEs and their supply according to a car’s Open Market Value would ensure a more equitable distribution, with the rich paying more.

A system based on perceived needs, though, would be a nightmare to administer. Is a family with three children living within a five-minute walk to an MRT station perceived to have a higher need than an old couple with no children but living 30 minutes from an MRT station? What about a young medical professional who must respond to emergencies but is 15 minutes away from public transport? There are hundreds of permutations. How would one judge and who would judge the perceived needs? Such a system would also create unhappiness for many.

- Chew Eng Soo, “Re-categorise COEs to ensure more equitable distribution”, 12 Feb 2013, Today Voices.

And here is the Gahmen’s take on it, when the idea of balloting was raised in Parliament

Balloting for Certificates of Entitlement (COEs) will generate additional demand and reduce the winning chances for those who really want to buy a car, said Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo.

Mrs Teo made the point in Parliament on Friday in response to MP Denise Phua, who asked if the system can be modified to allow for balloting. Mrs Teo said with balloting, even those who have no real intention to buy a car would try their luck.  “This is especially because the ‘prize’ of the ballot, in this case a COE, will be much sought after, and a person who wins the ballot can quite easily decide to cash out,” she added. Mrs Teo said there could also be a black market where balloted COEs are resold to genuine car buyers at a much higher price.

She said: “Balloting essentially means telling genuine buyers, whether they are families or businesses, that getting a COE depends on the luck of the draw or having to resort to the black market. Neither of this is very reassuring and clearly not an improvement over the present system.”

Mrs Teo said there will also be a need to fix “some arbitrary price for COEs” given out under a balloting system. She said the price has to be high enough to deter speculators and yet not too high for people who would like to own cars. She added: “The member will agree that this is next to
impossible as any price that is lower than what people are willing to pay will attract speculators.” 

- “Balloting for COEs will reduce winning chances”, Channelnewsasia, 8 Feb 2013

Ok, let’s get it clear, I’m not here to say that my COE proposal is great and is the only way forward. It is just one of many suggestions that the Ministry of Transport has been getting (and ignoring). Every suggestion I’ve posted above from other parties is valid and workable in their own way.

What I want to say here though, is that we need to examine the underlying assumptions that people make when they analyse the COE system, versus the reality which imposes limits on what can be done.

Any policy to fix the COE has to be very lucid on some things first. (These are all based on common sense and logic, no rocket science involved):

1. There must be a fixed limit to the number of vehicles in Singapore.

Why do people still think about a “growth rate” for vehicles in Singapore? The Transport Minister still wants to maintain a growth rate of 0.5%.

Excuse me, how much land is there in SG and how many vehicles can be tolerated? The finite nature of land means that there must be a finite number of four-wheeled vehicles. I was joking with a friend – one way to double to number of possible vehicles is to ban cars altogether so the roads can only be occupied by motorcycles and bicycles.

So let’s not talk about growth of the car population – let’s talk about a finite cap, which I believe we may have already busted due to the frequency of jams we see here, even during off-peak hours. Even with more road improvements, the jams will still occur – you can’t possibly widen every expressway by another lane and not see bottlenecks at each major exit point or on arterial roads.

What this also means is that there can only be a fixed number of certificates. Every cert that is scrapped goes back to the pool like today, but the pool must no longer grow. Projection of the wrong growth rates in the 2000s led to the oversupply today. The sky-high prices we are seeing now is not a natural function of the original COE system – it is gaming of the system by premium car dealers.

2. The current COE system is causing social discord and class division

Resentment of the PAP government is at an all time high for a variety of reasons. One of them is the perception that Singapore has become a “playground for the rich”, leaving the rest of the people out in the cold.

Our COE system has created a car population like no other in the world – cars often scrapped before their 10th year, BMW and Mercedes Benz are the top two selling cars in SG, we probably have the highest percentage of supercars on the roads, and so on.

Disclaimer: Now I happen to ride the Ferrari of motorcycle brands - a Ducati – so maybe I’m not the best guy to decry “class divide!”. But let’s do the sums - my Ducati Monster retails for $32K SGD including insurance and COE(as of today), while the car COE is currently at $92.9K SGD. A BMW 3-series sedan is currently going for $216K, so my Ducati may seem like an affordable scooter next to what BMW owners are forking out. And our Class 2 “scooters” can out-accelerate any car you can afford ;)

I also own a Corolla Altis which has a $4.6K COE, purchased at the system’s lowest point in 2009. If the current COE system continues, I have no intention of buying a new car when this car’s COE expires in 2019, I have better things to do with $200K.

I’m cool with not owning a car especially when my kids would be teenagers by 2019, but I can’t speak for others. So yes, the current COE does deter people from buying cars due to affordability.

But if we spent our whole lives looking at spreadsheets and doing the sums, it’s a truly sad life to lead. In a society where only the really rich or those who lack financial prudence, can drive a car, you have to think of the societal consequences. Will people construct their lives around renting a hunk of metal and wheels at illogical prices?

It’s not as if public transport is a good alternative.

The Govt has been desperately trying to persuade people that its white paper projection of 6.9 million people in 2030 SG is a worst case scenario, but I’m more worried about the next ten years.

The infrastructural problems that the Govt says will be fixed by 2030 will definitely continue in the next few years. Just this morning, a fire broke out at the Newton MRT train platform causing northbound trains to be suspended for nearly three hours.

Every other week we hear of some SMRT breakdown, until we are tired of hearing what the Transport Minister has to say on their efficient recovery plans. Nobody really cares what you say if you’ve missed work, an important meeting, or even a school exam.

The end result is an unhappy populace forced to live with a problematic public transport system, while the rich who buy new cars still get stuck in jams (but at least in air-conditioned comfort with some muzak). If the PAP hasn’t figured it out by now, the public transport system will cost many many votes in 2016′s General Elections, because the system favors the rich.

Yes, the COE system generates great revenue for the Govt, but is the ruling party ready for the cost of votes? You can promise lift upgradings, more kindergartens, but what people really want is a satisfactory means of getting to work to drive this country’s relentless pursuit of Gross Domestic Product.

3. Balloting requires a radical locus of control

To everyone who says that a balloting system will lead to a black market, you’re not thinking hard enough of what this proposal would require in terms of control.

If you tie the COE to a person’s identity card, do you think he can sell his identity so easily? We have such an advanced ERP system that can detect every car by their in-car unit and cashcard, I don’t see how difficult it is to include tracking of an inserted IC when the car goes under a gantry.

There will always be a few who will try to break the system and go sell their identity/right of ownership on the black market, but let’s remember, Singapore is a really, really small place and the level of control possible is like no other country on earth. The Land Transport Authority spends too much time trying to catch people who modify their cars with loud but harmless mods, and can instead divert their resources to doing random spot checks on cars if such a system is implemented.

At this point, someone will shout: “This proposal is communist!” Or socialist. Whatever.

For those not aware of history, communism is always the dirty word thrown about when people don’t like an idea that seeks to distribute resources randomly or equally. Communism as a political concept has failed, we all know that. But when your kid doesn’t get into school because he failed the random ballot, is the system “communist”? If you don’t get a Baby Bonus because you are childless, is the system “communist”?

Stop using words because of their political baggage and impact. Use words which speak logic and sense.

The fundamental issue with the COE is how to distribute them. This is one thing the various proposals don’t seek to consider. It can boil down to one simple question:

How many expensive vehicles should we have vs cheaper sedans?

At this point, people will probably get stuck. I can imagine the policymakers arguing: Do we cater to the rich, or do we seek to make the masses happy? Do we seek revenue or do we seek political votes of the heartlander? Maybe 50-50 lah!

I bring you back to the original principle of a vehicle quota system:

There can only be a finite number of cars, no matter the population of Singapore.

This is where all the alternative COE proposals, including mine, will run into the wall for a long time. The one factor that stops the conversation from moving forward is the stubborn assumption that distribution can be managed by market forces (ie. who has the money can own one).

But, but, what happens, say in some hypothetical scenario, there are 500,000 rich people in Singapore but there is only enough space for 300,000 cars? Forget what the poor thinks, the rich will revolt.

The problem never ends until people recognize that a quota is really meant to limit the number, not to make people happy. The current COE system - where I haven’t heard the LTA state a theoretical limit in car population – has an inbuilt time-bomb because there may come a day when even if you can afford a car, the roads are all gridlocked to the point where there isn’t any pleasure in driving anymore. So all your precious COE money has gone to waste.

4. So who decides who really needs a car?

This is where people get really upset. You mean my family of two shouldn’t be prioritized to have a car?!? You mean the million dollars I contribute in taxes means nothing?

To argue about who is more needy will take forever. Someone needs to put their foot down and instead of dealing with a thousand permutations, just lay down a few criteria. Some suggestions for people to qualify before they can even go ballot for a COE:

  • Entrepreneurs who deal in goods and services (why, this may spur the entrepreneurship we always bemoan that is lacking)
  • Families with at least three kids. (This will work better than any Baby Bonus, I always believe so)
  • Families with one disabled parent or special needs child. (Will the aged deliberately cripple themselves to own a car? Not too many, I hope).
  • Each registered company with at least 10 employees is entitled to one goods vehicle. (subject to constant onsite audits. SOHOs have no way to workaround this)

And keep it at just a few criteria - everyone else go take public transport, since its purported to be “world-class”. Don’t even release the remainder into the market for free auction. And police the car owners to the maximum until their COE expires.

One can imagine the outrage of people who don’t qualify to begin with. But will people understand the fairness of such a system?

But like I said, if you don’t put strict criteria, everyone will believe they deserve a car. No, my friend, a car can no longer be within reach of everyone because our roads are bursting and so is the population.

A painful solution is needed, but one that does not create societal problems or a wealth divide.

Unlike the past, working hard at your job and earning big dollars shouldn’t be the passport to car ownership. Even country clubs have a cap on the number of members they can have.

Meritocracy has no place in a car quota system. Just like how it’s tough to say whether an SAF general deserves a car versus a Cabinet minister versus a fresh vegetable supplier.

So don’t confuse equalitarian with communism, and don’t confuse wealth-based systems with meritocracy. When it boils down to it, nobody really needs a car in a country 50km across in length. But just like the idea that everyone should own a flat, we’ve grown up being brainwashed that we must own a car to show that we’ve made it in society. I argue that it is those who haven’t made it (the disabled, the disenfranchised, the struggling entrepreneur) who need all the transport help they can get.

The COE was created in 1990 when the population was small (3m, vs today’s 5.3m), when there was no heavy influx of foreigners and their wealth, and there was no Internet for people to share ideas and debate public policy.

If we can’t recognize the root of the problem, we can’t solve it. And I say the root of the COE problem is that we can’t think of a solution that doesn’t involve money and taxing the people to their wits’ end. We spend all our time thinking about money and that affects the way we look at issues. Sometimes we need to step back and stomp on all our assumptions before we can move forward again.

PS: Like I said, I don’t have the perfect solution. There are definitely some holes in my logic above that I can’t pinpoint because I’m just human. I just have ideals and common logic applied to them. If you wish to comment below, be constructive and be respectful to each other please. I will moderate all comments like I would a car quota system.  

The COE system has broken down

Note: There are many comments coming in, but here’s my rule – if you can’t leave your real name and email address, I will delete the comment. I’m tired of people hiding behind pseudonyms and not having the courage to speak up as their real selves. Using your FB account (that shows your real name) to comment will work too.

Since the 2011 General Elections, the Government has been actively dealing with the various societal and infrastructural issues facing Singaporeans. Be it the fertility rate, housing prices or public transport, there have been much discussion and policy changes.

But the Government remains strangely stubborn on the issue of the Certificate of Entitlement (COE) for vehicles. Despite multiple calls from the public to revamp the nearly 23-year-old system, the consistent response from the Ministry of Transport is that there will be no changes apart from tweaking vehicle quotas.

It is puzzling to most citizens why this sacred cow remains resilient to policy change. It is neither fool-proof nor has it benefited the wider society in the past two decades.

Poor management of the system formula and vehicle quotas led to an explosion in the vehicle population in the last decade. The current state of COE prices have just about decimated the market for affordable family sedans, angering the heartlander population as it seems only the wealthy deserve to have cars. The roads today are still susceptible to massive jams (even during off peak hours) despite the COE and ERP systems in place, exacerbated by a strained public transport network.

It is clear that the COE system needs an overhaul to serve the people, and not be beholden to an obsolete concept from a different era.

The Government needs to abolish old assumptions and policymakers need to realize this has become a hot political issue that has reached a boiling point within the electorate.

Why not consider the following principles in designing a vehicle quota system?

1) Distribution of certificates must be fair and equitable.

To control a vehicle population merely requires a restriction in the number of certificates, not an infinitely increasing price. No matter the price, there is always someone who can afford it, but is that a fair system given the increasing wealth divide in Singapore?

Balloting has been suggested frequently by citizens to level the playing field between the rich and poor, yet this call is ignored by the Government each time.

For those who fear a black market situation, that can be easily dealt with through strict ownership laws and enforcement. Who would dare to trade in balloted COEs if he risks a $200,000 fine or six-month jail term? Singapore’s a “fine” city, right?

2) Car ownership should be driven by needs, not wants.

Balloting can also be prioritized for families who really require private transport.

I have observed how the disabled and elderly face difficulty in getting around with their family members, especially on rainy days when one can never get a taxi. We desire to be an inclusive society, but the ones who are truly dependent on private transport are often shut out. The roads have been prioritized for those who can drive big and flashy continental cars instead.

Also, has the Government ever considered improving the fertility rate simply by giving priority of car ownership to parents with three or more children? If people want to aspire to the 5Cs, especially that of a car, let them achieve the 6th C of having more children first.

Any rational Singaporean will tell you that we can only have a limited number of cars on this island and that we do need a system of control.

However, the COE system’s massive flaws have been apparent for decades, and not fixing them will only lead to greater societal discord and political fallout in the near future.

A week of ridiculous statements

It’s been a busy week of news and I’m pretty upset, not so much by the news but the jaw-dropping things the Govt people say as a result of the news.

Meritocracy

“The labour movement is “uncomfortable” and “concerned” with the calls for equal jobs, equal remuneration”…Mr Lim said that equal remuneration would not take into account the standard of living in Singapore as opposed to other regions, and this would be unfair for local workers who have to support their family members here. - Labour chief Lim Swee Say with regards to the strike by the China-born bus drivers in Singapore.

For all the talk about meritocracy in Singapore, it doesn’t exist from what I see. The rich/poor gap widens every day, because things are stacked up against the poor and lowly educated.The rich can ensure their children get all the help they need to get a top-tier education, and the poor struggle to make ends meet while trying to figure out the convoluted English in today’s primary school papers.

Now we are asked to ponder: Why shouldn’t we pay foreign workers less than a local worker for the same amount of work done?

Does this mean, if I go overseas looking for a job, I can ask for a higher salary since the cost of living in Singapore is so high?

Please.

I can tolerate a higher cost of living if it means that there are more opportunities for locals AND foreigners to find jobs that can pay the bills here. The cost of living is shooting up because of ridiculous housing prices (especially that of public housing), unfettered increase in rentals by greedy landlords, and an education system that forces so many parents to fork out money for tuition. (I shan’t include cars since it’s deemed a luxury item these days.)

What is being done to manage those costs? Not very much, until the next recession comes along and all the bubbles burst (except the recession-proof tuition centers)

The last thing I want to tell my children is “See, look at that foreigner over there. He earns less than the Singaporean guy doing the same job because you deserve to be paid more for being born here.”

Or

“Do you know that we have to pay that China bus driver so much less, and make him stay in a dirty dormitory because otherwise you will complain about the high cost of transport in Singapore?”

Pay people for the work they do, not who they are. And for goodness sake, treat our foreign workers with dignity and respect. They’re here to earn a living just like the rest of us.

The SMRT

“The purpose of fare increases is not to boost the short term profits of PTOs. It is also not just to improve salaries of bus drivers but to improve service to commuters while keeping public transport operations commercially viable.” - Lui Tuck Yew, trying to clarify what he really meant when he said the public had to bear fare increases so they can pay bus drivers better.

Lui Tuck Yew’s recent statements on public transport have been derided endlessly by the public, but he wouldn’t keep quiet. Ironically, he hardly replies to the near-100% negative statements on his postings. I wonder if he even reads the comments from his angry “fans”.

Let me lay it out in a simple formula that is easier than today’s PSLE questions:

Profitable SMRT + Billions of taxpayer dollars to subsidize their fleet + A lucrative COE/ERP system hell bent on making us take public transport = Poorly maintained train lines + dismal living conditions for hardworking foreign drivers + An ex-CEO who goes scot-free for today’s mess + no real penalty for angering commuters all the time = Can the Transport Minister fix problems first before saying so much?

I do feel sorry for so many SMRT workers who have to take the heat daily from commuters for bad management and government decisions. The SMRT is a difficult entity to manage across all its lines of businesses, and honestly, it does a pretty good job day-to-day in ferrying millions around this tiny island.

But someone needs to tell Mr Lui to stop destroying whatever is left of their public image and commuter goodwill with his mindblowing PR skills.

Come clean with the financial numbers and tell us how much it’s going to cost with the proper data and projections – we’re not that dumb you know. Apparently we score very well globally in mathematics.

Employees and the right to privacy

“When we heard this happened, we all felt sorry for her (Ms Laura Ong) to be caught in that position. On one hand, we would like to not add to her pain by disclosing her identity, yet at the same time this case has attracted much public attention.” - Lim Swee Say on why the People’s Association revealed the name of Michael Palmer’s lover to the public.

So a high-flying Speaker of Parliament has an affair despite knowing better (and he’s a lawyer to boot). There goes his career and reputation, and it’s all his own doing.

It is obvious that his lover will be outed by social or traditional media sooner or later, but for the People’s Association to reveal her name publicly in connection to the case…that’s unacceptable.

If you say you don’t want to add to her pain…DON’T.

Who is the one in the wrong who has shamed the PAP for his lack of integrity and moral fibre? Who has caused a potential by-election that will cost a lot of time, money and political points?

Why add a tremendous amount of pain to a woman who probably didn’t fully understand how this could turn into a media inquisition? If you’re going to reveal her name, why not go all the way and issue a press release with high resolution photos of her mugshot? Why not add in statements that this woman has had an affair with the Speaker and that’s why she’s quitting?

Seriously, this is a week which has shown how poor the Govt. is at diplomacy and public communication.

Simi National Conversation about happiness and what not?

This IS the National Conversation and it’s not going well.

It’s not me who is “kan cheong”

This post has been published as a letter in Today, 10 Oct, under the headline “To educate is not to hothouse“.

In May this year, I was so outraged by the steep difficulty in a primary school exam paper that my wife showed me, I wrote my first letter to Today about the unrealistic standards in our education system. It was followed by a flurry of letters by other parents, and by National Day, this had become a national conversation of sorts.

I was glad to know that I was not the only one who thought that the system has become distorted.

In the past few weeks, I have been equally cheered and perturbed by the many discussions around the PSLE. There have been extreme calls to dissolve the PSLE, which the Prime Minister has wisely cautioned against.

Academic exams serve a simple purpose – they reinforce learning of concepts and they test a person’s ability to perform under pressure. There is no gauge of the learning achieved without an objective evaluation.

Exams also force a person to consider – what are the consequences of not doing well? The decisions that we make before each major trial, often determines the path our lives will take.

The problem with the PSLE, is that it makes people so focused on a moderated aggregate score, that our children no longer have a chance to dream about what they want to be, what they want to aspire to. For many today, their only distinct memory of primary school life is filled with endless homework, tuition lessons and stress.

It is obvious (perhaps not to the Ministry of Education) that our children are over-burdened with the curriculum’s sheer volume and difficulty. Parents with degrees struggle to solve key PSLE mathematics questions. Accomplished writers wonder what is with the convoluted English that our children are forced to memorize. Why do we still have Speak Good English campaigns if our education system is so stellar?

It would be fodder for a comedy if it weren’t a sad reality.

I wouldn’t know how the Ministry is dealing with the massive amount of feedback to date.

All I hope the policymakers will do is to remember why our children go to school in the first place – to receive an education, and not to undergo hothousing with things they can scarcely understand at their tender age.

The simplest way to resolve the differing expectations and standards between schools is to standardize all primary school exams. Other letter writers have raised this idea as well and it is worth considering.

What if most of the kids do well, some educators may protest. How do we differentiate the good performers from the mediocre?

To that, I say: Why should we penalize our children for meeting the clear learning standards laid down for them?

Take the national Class 3 driving test for example – as long as students don’t get immediate failures or breach 18 demerit points, they are allowed to immediately drive on the road any car they can afford.

But today, the school curriculum is not clear at all. I see children tested on topics that aren’t in the textbook. I see tough questions designed to only demoralize young minds, not build them up for greater things. I look into my son’s eyes and despair when I see his struggle to understand why this education system is so brutal on him and his friends.

The Prime Minister has told us parents not to be “kan cheong” and let our kids have their childhood.

I’m trying my best, sir, but the current system of unrealistic and unbalanced standards is the one that contradicts everything you and I desire for our next generation.